A 94-year-old World War II veteran from Onondaga County who was still repairing watches part time to make ends meet came to Feed Our Vets for help.
The Utica-based, national nonprofit runs a food pantry in Utica. When volunteers heard the man’s story, they looked for more ways to help him. They discovered that 17 years ago he had qualified for a military pension, but never received a letter telling him, said Richard Synek, founder of Feed Our vets and a Navy veteran.
“This opened up a lot for him. We got him into senior housing now instead of paying rent in some apartment he was in. That’s just one World War II veteran,” he said.
His organization helps a lot of veterans, including many from World War II and the Korean War, struggling with food insecurity. And as the veterans confide in veteran volunteers, the organization helps them find services to help with other needs, too, Synek said.
That’s why Synek is a finalist in Today’s Options Champions, a competition launched by Today’s Options, part of WellCare Health plans Inc., which specializes in Medicare Advantage plans, to recognize Central New York residents who improve the quality of life for area seniors and help them access services.
And that’s why he needs your vote. The grand champion will be chosen from among five finalists through online voting. Voters can vote once a day through the contest’s end on Tuesday, Aug. 22. The top vote-getter will receive $10,000 for the charity of his or her choice, to be presented at the New York State Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
Synek said he would use the money “so we can continue feeding more elderly veterans and outreach to let more elderly veterans know we’re out there for them.”
There’s a lot of reasons why veterans need food, said Synek, a retired postmaster of Vernon Center. Some are the working poor who had trouble finding good jobs after their service; some became disabled after their service; and some face mental health issues, he said.
“We deal with a wide range of veterans that are just, I don’t know what’s the right word. Unlucky?” he said.
Synek and his wife, Michele, started the nonprofit back in 2008.
“When I first started Feed Our Vets, I did a lot of research and there was no real organization out there that was feeding vets,” he said.
Last year the pantry in Utica, where veterans pick out a week’s worth of food in a mini-grocery store setting, handed out 200,000 pounds of food — meat, produce, eggs, cheese and milk. And the organization is active in 36 states with pantries in Watertown and Cabot, Arkansas and more opening soon in far-flung locations.
To vote for Synek, go to www.todaysoptionschampions.com.
To donate to Feed Our Vets, go to www.feedourvets.org or to arrange food donations, call Joe at 315-794-3310.
Follow @OD_Roth on Twitter or call her at 315-792-5166.